BLOG: Tackling digital exclusion in Wigan
How new TechMates scheme is tackling digital exclusion across Wigan
The Digital Wigan team is part of Wigan Council, the team works closely with Wigan Borough’s community to support residents to develop essential digital skills. The support provided by Digital Wigan includes helping people to get online, keeping in touch with family and friends using video calls and signing up to council services online.
COVID-19 has certainly further highlighted the importance which needs to be placed on bridging the digital divide. It has positively raised the profile of how important it is for our residents and businesses to have the confidence and the tools to engage with online resources.
TechMates is a digital mentor service run by our volunteers and council staff. It was introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to prevent isolation for our most vulnerable residents. TechMates provides one-to-one basic digital support over the telephone to those residents who are unable to leave their homes. We help residents use digital technologies such as smartphones, tablets, computers or laptops to help them build their digital confidence.
We have been astonished by the number of Wigan residents wanting to help their community by training to become a TechMate. Since June, we have recruited 51 TechMates offering approximately 320 hours of support.
One of our TechMates success stories, includes Colin, who has been accessing support from TechMates since July. Hear Colin’s story below.
Partnership working and volunteers have been essential to the success of TechMates, grassroots organisations, such as Wigan Borough’s Age UK, Pensioners Link based in Leigh, Wigan and Leigh Carers Centre in Hindley and our neighbourhood teams across the borough have been instrumental in identifying residents who need our support. Pensioners Link have led the way by supporting their cohort of volunteers to become TechMates.
“I enjoy hearing the joy in their voices, of the initial scepticism at first, of 'I'll never learn this' to the ‘wow, this is really great' moment, when they get it and when they actually think, this is actually very useful and I like what I'm doing.” - Paul Roughley, Manager at Pensioners Link in Leigh. See the full interview.
In terms of the future of TechMates, we are continuing to offer that support and increase our volunteer network. We are expanding on our digital support offer by including local college students and additional strands such as coding support. We also plan to train all members of staff to be TechMates, so that they can offer not only support to those residents who they come into contact within their day to day roles but family, friends and neighbours.
Wigan Digital Communities Partnership
During Digital Leaders Week in October, we were excited to launch our Digital Communities Partnership, which is a group of local community organisations offering a variety of courses and learning opportunities for all age ranges across Wigan borough. We have connected with new partners during this time and built on existing relationships, Wigan is extremely lucky to have some great community organisations who recognise the importance of breaking down digital barriers for our residents and digitally upskilling.
We are continuing to build on the Digital Communities Partnership with local community volunteers and organisations. Together we have the unified goal to enable all residents to achieve the 5 essential digital skills. We would like everyone to experience the power of digital to improve the potential and growth of the borough and transform the way we deliver services and in turn preventing social isolation.
When the Covid-19 Pandemic hit, our libraries and community centres were suddenly required to close due to the national lockdown. They are usually thriving hubs of digital engagement within our communities, where residents seek digital support and gain access to devices and free Wi-Fi.
With businesses closing and more essential services needed, we needed to act quickly and ensure that our most vulnerable residents were supported. Many of those vulnerable residents were shielding and didn’t have access to essential services.
To help support residents without access to a digital device or the connectivity needed to access these essential services, we donated a number of devices:
- Between April and July of this year, we delivered 1000 devices to children who could not attend school in the borough through the Department of Education digital device scheme.
- We provided a further 100 tablet devices to individuals isolated in hospital to ensure they could connect with friends and family.
- As also provided 100 tablets to care homes across the borough to support family connections and also virtual health clinics.
We are currently in the process of sourcing devices and connectivity to form a community-led infrastructure to roll out a tablet loaning scheme across the borough.
How do we bridge to digital divide?
COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the economic prospects and wellbeing of our residents. Some of these societal challenges may have digital solutions. Digital connectivity needs to be recognised as an essential utility. We know Digital Exclusion is Social Exclusion.
Without question if we are to meet the challenges of bridging the digital divide there needs to be a coming together of local authorities, businesses and community groups to make the case for investment to work together and make the commitment to bridge the digital divide so that people can live happier, healthier lives.
Thankfully, The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has developed a fantastic digital investment strategy through its Digital Inclusion Agenda for Change - a bold ambition to make Greater Manchester a 100% digitally-enabled city region. Linked to this agenda has been Wigan’s participation in regular GM Digital Inclusion Locality Leads meetings. These meetings have brought together local authority officers, businesses, community partners, The Good Things Foundation and experts from the education sector. For Wigan, this has given us access to a vibrant and innovative forum to share thoughts and ideas – and a lifeline to essential funding to enable us to invest in digital projects designed to digitally support our most vulnerable residents.
I believe we need to focus efforts on providing access to devices, connectivity, and digital skills for those in greatest need. The digital investment narrative has become even more pertinent considering the exacerbation of digital inequalities brought about by the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic. No one person should be left behind because they do not have the means or resources to be able to connect digitally.
Visit the newly refreshed Digital Wigan webpages where you can access a hub of resources for residents of all ages and skills.
Article Published: 17/11/2020 14:00 PM